Lionel Messi Sits on the Bench for Argentina’s World Cup Qualifying Match against Paraguay

AP Photo/Gustavo Garello
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, second from right, embraces with teammates prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 against Paraguay at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.

SAO PAULO (AP) — Lionel Messi is sitting on the bench for Argentina once again as his team faces Paraguay on Thursday in a South American World Cup qualifying match.

The 36-year-old Messi has felt muscular pains in his right leg that have sidelined him for several matches at his club Inter Miami. Coach Lionel Scaloni picked Nico Gonzalez as his replacement.

Scaloni has chosen an up-front duo with Julián Álvarez and Lautaro Martínez for the match.

Messi missed four MLS matches for his club plus the U.S. Open Cup final. He played 10 minutes on Saturday in Inter Miami’s 1-0 loss to Cincinnati. He also skipped Argentina’s 3-0 win at Bolivia in another World Cup qualifying match in September.

The World Cup winners and Brazil are 2-0 in qualifying for the 2026 World Cup after victories last month. The continental archrivals are due to meet in November.

The next World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format, meaning direct entry to the top six teams in South America. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.

Earlier on Thursday, Colombia and Uruguay drew 2-2. Veteran James Rodríguez opened the scoring for the hosts in the 37th minute, and Matias Oliveira levelled shortly before the break.

Mateus Uribe put the Colombians back in front in the 52nd minute. Uruguay equalized from the spot with Darwin Núñez moments before the final whistle after being fouled by goalkeeper Camilo Vargas, who was sent off.

Colombia has five points in three games and Uruguay has four.